Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Down at the Cat Café - coffee, cats and cuddles

A chilled out Pablo at the Hobart Cat Café

Cat cafés are all the rage, so on Sunday, at the insistence of my daughter and granddaughters, I  visited the one in North Hobart to see what they were all about.

Taiwan is officially credited with starting the first Cat Café in 1998, but the idea was so popular with Japanese tourists that they soon started their own. Since then they have flourished around the world, particularly in regions where pet ownership is becoming more problematic.  Even in little old Hobart getting a rental property which allows animals – no, not so much as a goldfish, is almost impossible, as my daughter recently found out. At last count some 30 countries from Latvia to India, from Russia to Canada, from New Zealand to Denmark had Cat Cafés with more being added every day. 

A more aloof Tiger Lily reposes on a stool

Not all of them are the same. Some have cats which can be adopted offering new hope to abandoned cats; others only allow you to pet them. The “Bag of Nails” in Scotland is a cat pub. The Brooklyn Cat Café shows movies. Feline Yoga is offered at “Crumbs and Whiskers” in Los Angeles and Washington.  Some offer Train and Groom Your Cat sessions; “Morgan’s” in New York teaches you how to paint cats, and so on.
The Cat Café I visit is more like a petting zoo with a permanent cast of ten characters who mostly entertain by being themselves. “Pearl” aged 15 and the oldest member of the team – the correct term is a clowder of cats -lounges luxuriously in one of the baskets attached to a veritable cat’s play gym in the front window. “Pablo” is more lively, but still pretty laid back. It hard to feel stressed when there’s so much purrfect schmoozing going on.

I think this might be Oreo who seems more interested in the goings on in the street than in the cafe

Hanging out in the Cat Café - the cats radiate calm

 Indeed, research has shown that cats* are good for humans. With their 50 -60 Hertz purr, they have been shown to reduce blood pressure, depression  and risk of stroke and heart attacks as well as reducing stress and anxiety.   Sarah, co -owner of the Hobart Cat Café says her cats help to reduce the isolation of those in group homes and elder care facilities, especially in cases of dementia, where cats can help to bring back memories. Children with autism also seem to benefit from association with cats.

The food doesn't look half bad either

That’s all well and good, but is it also good for the cats? Some Cat Cafés have come under fire for not paying enough attention to hygiene and the health and welfare of their cats, but in places where animal welfare and cafés generally are of a high standard – in Japan for example, cat cafés must be registered and are regularly inspected, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

This is certainly the case with respect to the local café. Their cats were especially chosen for their temperament. The animal hospital is across the road (I actually thought the café was part of it) and they are regularly checked by vets. The whole area is very clean and food production is separated from the cat area by a small vestibule where visitors are asked to wash their hands before and after playing with the cats. The cats themselves may not be picked up, though they may be stroked and patted. If the cats have had enough attention, or feel uncomfortable at any time they can retreat  through the cat doors into their own human -free space. None of these cats look as if they ever want to leave.

Guests pass through a special entryway

In the case of rescue cats being petted and pampered and having the chance to find a new home, it surely beats being confined to a small wire cage and possibly being euthanized, which is often the fate of older cats, when they have passed the cute kitten stage. Though the Hobart Cat Café doesn’t do adoptions itself, there’s a sign in the window on behalf of the Hobart Cat Centre, which does. The café also accepts donations on their behalf.

Cat related pictures and paraphernalia  adorn the café

 For the best Cat Cafés in Europe click here
and the best in the USA here.

P.S. If you would like more cat company but aren’t quite ready for the long term commitment of cat ownership, the Cat Centre also has opportunities for foster carers and casual cuddlers.

Want more cat pats but don't want to adopt one? It is also possible to foster, though not via the Cat Cafe
*Dogs confer similar health benefits on their owners. Both have co -evolved with humans but the same does not necessarily hold for non -domestic animals - such as owls or even hedgehogs, which have now started being pressed into the same kind of service, much as we might enjoy their company.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Farewell to the Paper Coffee Cup and other initiatives by our local council

I haven’t used a paper cup since I saw the tram full of used coffee cups representing a day’s worth in Melbourne, on the War on Waste last year.  It’s much nicer to sit down and have a break anyway and to drink from a real cup instead. I know that isn’t an option for everyone, but the Hobart City Council has now joined with Markets for Change to promote reusable cups with its Cup Conscious Café campaign.   Businesses which sign on, agree to refill reusable cups Click on the link to find one near you. This has worked so well here that the idea is catching on in other cities.  

Even better, yesterday while I was in an unrelated business and they asked if I would like a coffee, a perfect cup of coffee in a china cup was delivered by the café next door – hot, strong and with a little jug of milk on side, just the way I like it. Now that’s service!

Power tools are among several surprising finds at the Tipshop

A green tick too for the council's decision to open an inner city depot for hard to recycle items such as light globes, batteries, toner cartridges, small electronics,  mail satchels, cosmetics and pens as part of its Zero Waste by 2030 strategy.  I was also surprised to see how busy and clean its Tipshop was. My son had gone there to find a section of pipe and I took the opportunity to have a look around. It's amazing what you can find there - from cupboard door knobs to building materials, camping gear,  rare computer leads, power tools and even collectables. I even got a few bargains such as a packet florist's wire and an unopened science kit. I can't believe what some people throw out. Last year the Tipshop won the Tasmanian Community Achievement Sustainability Award and it’s great to see local councils taking up the slack where other levels of government have failed to act.

Two other things worth mentioning in this context are the council's endeavours to help  Bilbao in East Timor to manage its waste and council's recent decision to cease investing in fossil fuels in the interests of mitigating climate change. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Parks and Playgrounds

An adventure playground in Germany

 You could say I have been studying parks and playgrounds from various perspectives since the age of five. Gone are the days of the rusty swing and a metal slide which stuck to your bottom on a frosty morning, scorched you on a hot day or landed you in a puddle of mud after rain. Not that the mud was all bad!

Recently completed flying fox and slide at Geeveston are a far cry from those early playgrounds. There is also a very nice bicycle course with traffic lights and the ubiquitous skate park
 For the most part I am pleased to report that those days are well behind us and play equipment has become not only safer, but more varied and colourful. This is important at a time when space is at a premium and denser living has almost eliminated the expansive quarter acre backyard which was also a part of our childhood. Even as we urge children to get more exercise the opportunities for free play in the neighbouhood in nearby bushland and vacant lots continue to shrink.

Treehouse - Calvert Park Judbury and a nice little cubby behind it

Kid -sized tractor in the same park - very apt in a farming and forestry area
The playgrounds I like best are those with themes and or a couple of novel features especially after a period when almost every playground looked the same. I love the flying foxes and climbing nets and those which prompt children to think or use their imaginations a bit. Just a hint of turrets at a Darlington (WA) playground, inspired all manner of small knights and fair ladies. Boaty shapes bring forth pirates. One in Ashgrove, (QLD) had the outlines of a little shop, complete with scales.  Another one I particularly liked was at a Garden Show in Freiburg, Germany. It was a vertical structure for water play with pumps, channels and pipes at the top and a sandpit at the bottom.  Since each activity took place at varying levels which could only be accessed by children of a certain height, many different age groups could be accommodated in very little space. Another favourite was in the middle of a park in Hanover  where parents – mostly Dads as far as I could tell, joined their children on the weekend to build an enormous boat/cubby out of scrap timber, thereby not only encouraging the transfer of skills but also community spirit and companionship.

At the local Train Park

Somewhere for little bike riders to ride

Mini shop - enough to spark the imagination

Chimes to make music

While the ongoing evolution of playgrounds is wonderful to see and children will be enchanted with the new playgrounds, for a while at least, it is not the same thing as enabling children to invent things for themselves. Where are the neighbourhood " wild" spaces where children can hide, where they can climb trees and pretend to be in a jungle and build their own"houses" even though such things may look unsightly to adults. And where are the bits of timber, the fabric scraps, the fruit boxes and the discarded pram wheels we used to play with as kids?

Something to make you giggle
Great slide, and just as importantly a shady spot for a picnic or for parents or grandparents to sit.( Providing protection from increased UV will be even more important in future) . Quite impressive for a small local park, but I think more big climbable shade trees and more things which kids can do for themselves wouldn't go amiss
My guess is that in years to come that “mess” will repay society with creativity and innovation. It is also more fun. The only evidence I have of the latter, is that our friends and neighbours gladly abandoned their dolls and bikes for a chance to play with our home made puppet theatres and box cars and we were never ever bored.

* Apologies for poor photo quality - took most of these on my iPhone and haven't worked out how to edit them yet

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Getting Clucky about Chooks

Shock! Horror! I’ve just found out that the eggs I have been buying as “free range” aren’t nearly as chook friendly or as wholesome as I thought, even though I have been paying more for them.

Not all "free range" eggs are equal

Thanks to the efforts of consumer advocacy group Choice, the Greens and others, Australia passed legislation last year which has just come into effect in time for Easter. It requires that the stocking density of chickens must be shown on egg cartons. This was necessary as it was found that many egg producers were trading on the public interest in healthier and more humanely produced food and the fact that consumers had shown themselves willing to pay a little more for eggs labelled “free range” though these were often produced under less than ideal conditions. 

It turns out that even the eggs in the box with the pretty picture were not produced according to the  recommended standard

While “free range” conjures up images of chooks pecking and scratching in green grass with fresh air and sunshine and a choice of desirable bugs, this is not necessarily the case with those with high stocking densities. The new laws unfortunately still permit poultry farms with stocking densities up to 10, 000 birds per hectare to use the "free range" label, far higher than the 2,500 birds allowed by the EU, or the 1,500 birds per hectare recommended by the CSIRO and the RSPCA, though I suppose we should be grateful that at least those chooks now have some access to the outside and are not spending their entire short, miserable lives in cages in which they can’t even turn around. If this is of concern to you and you wish to do or learn more about it,  go to the Choice website where egg producers are rated and listed by state. If you have a smartphone you can also download their CluckAR  App to point at egg cartons in the shops to see how each brand rates. 

The fantasy -what we imagine when we hear the words "Free Range"*

So much for the eggs we can buy and choose ourselves. What about those eggs which are used in restaurants and the cooked and baked goods we buy? Well, some restaurants and cafés are already on it. Even the hole -in -the -wall Sushi place I sometimes go to in town has a little sign out over the egg -roll ones. Expect others to follow suit. When more and more places look the same and offer what appears to be the same product, it could become a selling point and at least one point of difference.
Small sign seen at a local Sushi establishment is a sign of things to come - but how free range remains to be seen

*Thanks to Freeranger farms for letting me use their lovely chook photos. Their site also has much  more information on this topic